👋 Away Message: Hi there! Matt is currently out on parental leave. He'll return August 30th-ish. More details can be found here. In the meantime, Joe (the voice of the newscast/podcast) will be publishing an abridged version of WTF Just Happened Today? every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can expect 5-7 news items covering a slightly wider range of political news in about two sentences each. We'll return to our regularly scheduled WTFJHT programming when Matt returns in late August.
Send your thoughts, suggestions, or complaints to:
1/ Two men who worked with Giuliani to find damaging information about Biden and his son have been charged with conspiring to violate campaign finance laws that prohibit foreign nationals from contributing to U.S. campaigns. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman are two key subjects in the House’s impeachment inquiry. They were indicted and accused of making “secret agreements” to hide the fact that they were laundering foreign money into U.S. campaigns through a range of corporate identities by using “straw donors” to make the contributions. Parnas and Fruman allegedly used the agreements to hide their scheme from candidates and federal regulators. The indictment alleges that on one occasion, they lobbied a then-sitting member of Congress at the request of “one or more Ukrainian officials.” (BuzzFeed News / Washington Post / ABC News / New York Times / Reuters / Associated Press / NBC News)
- Parnas and Fruman spent lavishly as they dug for dirt on Biden. BuzzFeed News obtained unprecedented access to scores of bank records from private business accounts controlled by Lev Parnas and his partner Igor Fruman as they carried out a campaign now at the center of the first presidential impeachment inquiry in a generation. (BuzzFeed News)
2/ Trump and Giuliani pressured then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a meeting in 2017 to persuade the DOJ to drop a criminal case against one of Giuliani’s clients. The client was an Iranian-Turkish gold trader named Reza Zarrab, who was facing federal prosecution in New York on charges of evading U.S. sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program. Zarrab also had ties to top Turkish government officials. Tillerson refused to help Trump and Giuliani make the case go away, arguing that doing so would be illegal and constitute interference in an ongoing investigation. Tillerson told then-White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about the incident during a conversation in the hallway after the meeting ended, emphasizing that following through with Trump’s request would be a crime. “Suppose I did talk to Trump about it,” Giuliani said after initially denying that he ever raised Zarrab’s case with Trump. “So what?” Giuliani was not Trump’s personal lawyer at the time Trump made the request. (Bloomberg / CNN / Esquire / Vanity Fair)
- Lindsey Graham fell for a prank phone call in August from Russian pranksters posing as the Turkish defense minister. Alexey Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov are Russian comedians with suspected ties to Kremlin intelligence services who go by the stage names “Lexus and Vovan.” During the call, Graham labeled the Kurds a “threat” to Turkey, contradicting public statements he’s made in the wake of Turkey’s invasion of Kurdish strongholds in northeastern Syria. Graham also mentioned Trump’s personal interest in a “Turkish bank case” during the call, an apparent reference to the DOJ’s case against Giuliani’s client Reza Zarrab. (Politico)
3/ Trump gave a politically appointed official the authority to withhold nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine after career staff at the Office of Management and Budget questioned the legality of delaying the funds. Trump shifted the authority over the funds to Michael Duffey, who serves as associate director of national security programs at OMB. The aid in question is at the center of the House’s impeachment inquiry, and it was put on hold just days before the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky. Duffey was also allowed to oversee the apportionment of funds for other foreign aid and defense accounts. “It is absurd to suggest,” said an OMB spokesperson in a statement, “that the president and his administration officials should not play a leadership role in ensuring taxpayer dollars are well spent.” (Wall Street Journal)
- Zelensky said for the first time that Ukraine will “happily” investigate the conspiracy theory pushed by Trump that it was Ukrainians, not Russians, who interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He also encouraged U.S. and Ukrainian prosecutors to discuss investigating Biden’s son, despite the lack of any evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Biden or his son. (ABC News / Associated Press)
4/ Rick Perry was subpoenaed by the House as part of the impeachment inquiry into Trump. The three House committees conducting the inquiry gave Perry until Oct. 18 to turn over “key documents” related to Trump’s Ukraine dealings. The committees want him to turn over a series of documents related to Perry’s knowledge of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky, which Perry reportedly encouraged Trump to make. The House also wants to know whether Perry tried to press the Ukrainian government to make changes to the advisory board of its state-owned oil and gas company Naftogaz. (The Guardian / Fox News / Politico / Washington Post)
5/ Trump said he “does not endorse” Turkey’s military offensive in Syria, despite giving Turkey the green light to launch the attack and withdrawing U.S. forces from the region. Trump released a statement and claimed that he “does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea.” He also called on Turkey to make sure “all ISIS fighters being held captive remain in prison and that ISIS does not reconstitute in any way, shape, or form.” Trump again defended his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the region by saying the Kurds “didn’t help us in the Second World War; they didn’t help us with Normandy.” He added: “With all of that being said, we like the Kurds.” (The Independent / Business Insider)
- The Kurdish death toll from the ongoing Turkish air and ground assault in northeastern Syria now includes at least 23 dead, including one infant, and 70 wounded. The Turkish Defense Ministry said Turkish forces had conducted 181 airstrikes as of Thursday morning. Turkish-backed Syrian Arab rebel fighters said they had taken at least one formerly Kurdish-held village that lies just yards from the border. (New York Times)
Deutsche Bank doesn’t have Trump’s tax returns. Democrats in the House subpoenaed the bank for tax returns and financial records related to Trump, his children, and their various Trump business entities. But a federal appeals court said the bank doesn’t have them after reviewing an unredacted letter filed by the bank. A new ruling from the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York denied a request to unseal the letter, but commented on the redactions. “That letter reports that the only tax returns [the bank] has for individuals or entities named in the subpoenas are not those of the President,” Judge Jon Newman wrote. (Wall Street Journal)
Trump is reportedly calling Mitch McConnell up to three times per day in order to make sure he can maintain the loyalty of the GOP as he faces an impeachment inquiry from House Democrats. (CNN)
Trump lashed out at Fox News over a recent poll showing that 51% of respondents want him impeached and removed from office. “From the day I announced I was running for President,” Trump tweeted, “I have NEVER had a good @FoxNews Poll.” Trump added: “Oh well, I’m President!” (The Independent / NBC News / The Hill)
Become a member.
Help keep WTF Just Happened Today going with a small contribution.